Sweden's Saab outfits restyled 9000 sedan with V6 horsepower
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
Emperor Napoleon I of France envisioned an imposing Arch of Triumph to mark the ceremonial heart of Paris, but it was Baron Haussmann in 1854 who planned the traffic circle around this monument. Today, 12 grand Parisian boulevards converge in a bumper-crunching mangle of streaming -- sometimes screaming -- automobile traffic.
Only the adventuresome Swedes, though, would devise for an American in Paris steering a new Saab 9000 CDE sedan a test drive route that concluded in a twirl around this Etoile traffic circle at rush hour on a weekday afternoon.
Picture the confusion: Hundreds of midget French machines gushing from the 12 boulevards into this massive circle, each Kamikazi-inspired driver zipping to maximum velocity with only a single motoring rule to remember -- the maniac to your right can do anything he desires, such as cut a crisp left turn directly into your projected path.
Mere millimeters of air space separated each vehicle as tires squealed, wheels reeled, horns blared, fists shook and voices flared.
The Saab, its refined leather-lined interior insulated against this din, seemed like an island of sanity in a sea of traffic madness. My car was bigger than most in the circle, and certainly more powerful, equipped with Saab's new V6 engine and laced with exacting handling systems which earlier that day had enabled me to slip with ease over narrow twisty roads of coastal Normandy before charging down fast lanes of French freeways in a dash to Paris.
Yet in the crush of the Etoile, with what seemed like every vehicle in France aiming to claim a section of my Swedish sheetmetal, I could only inch through the mess while praying for the armor of a Sherman tank.
Eventually, we made it around the circle unscathed, my Saab and I, but only after resuscitation by French wines could I reflect on impressions gleaned from two days of driving from beaches of Normandy to the core of the French capital in Sweden's newest Saab that's bound for America.
Actually, Saab's 9000 CDE sedan is not entirely new.
It's the 9000 notchback modified in nose and tail, then beefed up with a 3.0-liter V6 built to Saab's standards in England by General Motors Europe, which owns majority interest in the auto division of Saab, an acronym for Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Swedish Airplane Company).
This advanced plant, with four valves in every cylinder and a unique 3-stage variable intake manifold system that enhances the lower end of the V6's torque curve to pump up output action, has been specifically tailored to American tastes for horsepower, torque and performance.
Riding on Saab's full-size platform which also supports a 5-door hatchback variation, the 9000 emerged earlier in the decade and until now offered only 4-cylinder engines including turbo-charged variations for which Saab excels due to fuelishly efficient on-demand thrust.
Talk to an informed Swede like Gunnar Johansson, program manager for the 9000's technical development, and you'll learn that even a large car like this doesn't need six cylinders to empower it when one of Saab's forceful 4-cylinder turbo models will perform that task and still earn impressive fuel economy figures.
Johansson used the 9000 CS as case in point.
Its new 2.3-liter in-line-4 turbo -- dubbed Light Pressure Turbo due to less turbo-boost pressure that trims the pesky power delay of a typical turbo -- produces 170 hp and 192 ft/lbs of torque. Still, it's so frugal at the gas pump that the CS earns top honors in its large-car class.
Of course, when gasoline costs as much as $4.50 a gallon as it does in Europe, that powerful-but-thrifty trait may be more important than in the North American marketplace where fuel amounts to only a quarter as much. Also, American drivers already spoiled by exacting European automotive performance prefer virtues of naturally-aspirated 6-cylinder engines, as a number of competitive sedans in this fancy price range already stock V6 power.
That's why Saab adds the new V6 with 210 hp output.
It's quiet, forceful, dynamic, actually quite good.
Unfettered by silly speed restrictions, like I was on French freeways, Saab's V6 kicked the 9000 to warp speed in scant seconds. Even above 120 mph, it was unobtrusive, while the platform remained extremely stable.
Saab produces a notchy manual shifter but for the North American market only an electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic will be offered with the new V6. I liked the way I could control shift sequences by raking this automatic down into lower gears.
The Swedes engineer their automobiles to plow through severe arctic winters, so the 9000 with front-wheel-drive format and standard restraining assets such as electronic traction control and anti-lock brakes will make it quite agile in mastering snow-slick streets.
A switch permits the driver to disengage the traction control device when you must spin front tires through loose gravel or snow to reach a more stable traction surface.
Heated front seats and new fog lamps positioned on the revised front spoiler also mark the 9000 CDE as a winter weather warrior.
Exterior modifications, subtle in light of the overall appearance of this sedan, include body-colored front and rear bumpers and aero-style headlamps, a lower profile for the radiator grille and slimmer tail treatment.
New shock absorbers added to the independent suspension permit stiffer spring rates designed to diminish body roll when turning yet still maintain a smooth and comfortable ride quality for passengers.
Inside, 9000 CDE feels elegant in the European mode.
Firm form-fitting front bucket seats set a tone for plush interior comfort. Luxury perks extend beyond power equipment for windows and the heated exterior mirrors to controls such as Saab's new adjustable 4-spoke steering wheel and electric cruise control.
All instruments appear easy to view, while knobs such as the power window buttons have been repositioned and function more logically. Push down, for instance, to lower a window; pull up with your fingertip to raise it.
The rear seat, fine for three but best for two, adds ample leg and head space, even by European standards. A vast trunk can corral enough luggage for a grand tour.
Ultimately, this new V6 Saab designed for American desires adds up to a performance driver's car that compares evenly against more expensive German touring sedans.
1995 SAAB 9000 CDE V6
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 SAAB 9000 Specs
||Midsize 4-door sedan
| Model Options:
||Midsize 4-door sedan
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||DOHC 3.0-L V6 24v
| Gas Mileage: